by Donna Messerly-Brown
I had come to the meeting directly from my first (of what will be many, I’m sure) counseling session. Although I’ve made the decision to deal with reality, I’m pretty sure there’s no law that says I have to like it. I was at the coffee shop meeting a dear, long-time friend and partner in crime. She was there to invite me to write for her amazing project. I only showed up because I said I would. My heart was torn opened and bleeding all over the table and a fruity muffin in front of me.
I growled at her as she chirped her future life plans (that clearly included me). She had lost 70 pounds since the last time I saw her and I seem to recall having called her a “bitch.” No, wait, it was “a skinny little bitch.” We’ve been friends for years and have granted each other license to be honest and forthcoming.
Despite a wonderful, colorful, blazing, exciting, amazing career in the worlds of news, public relations and business — at that moment I felt dead. Who was this person? Where did she come from? Our lives as altruistic tag-teaming investigative journalists were light years away (was that even me I remembered?) She looked at my black laptop bag and noted the logo embroidered on it. “Why do you have a laptop bag from that business?” she asked.
“It’s left over from a golf tournament I organized for Cedar City businesses years ago,” I responded with all the enthusiasm of a wet dish rag, “you know, back when I used to be a real person.”
Poor Me. No, Seriously …
I am generally a positive, outgoing individual. I’ve learned to restrain my emotions; and, I’m learning when it’s okay to let go. That day, I had decided to let go. It’s my first post on this blog so I’ll give you the worn-out rundown of “my problem.” I’m not whining. I’m not making excuses. I’m just damned tired and I need to help you understand just what it was that brought me to this crossroads where there are only two directional signs posted on the corner: “Live” and “Die.” Although I have an inherited propensity for chemical depression, I believe the “great fall” began in the summer of 2007 when my soon-to-be ex-husband walked into my office and announced my sister was found dead in her bed — by my 9-year-old niece.
In an instant my world began to spin violently out of control. Kris was 46-years old. She was brilliant, funny, fun, creative, generous, mean and admittedly crazy. She left behind three children.
My marriage was falling apart, I held a highly political professional position and I was in the midst of organizing a trip to China for 220 people. I finalized my divorce in August that year and took no time to grieve my beloved (and only) sister or the end of my 22-year marriage. In the spring of 2008 I took two of my four children, my ex-husband and 220 of my closest friends to China for a business tour. It was the most wonderful (and most stressful) nine days of my life.
By fall that year I had begun to unravel. I resigned my position of 3.5 years and withdrew from the world.
On Feb. 5, 2009, my ex-husband found my closest and dearest childhood friend, Kay Lynn Taylor Williams, dead on the side of the road in her car. He was patrolling in his police car when he came upon her on a lonely country road. My own mortality was already in question when Kris died. This loss was like a splintery stake driven straight through my heart.
In April 2010 my sweet daddy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Three weeks later I held his hand on his deathbed and recited a Robert Frost poem (Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening) with him until the last breath left his body. It was May 1, 2010.
In June 2011 my sweet niece was walking on a country road with her two little boys — one in a stroller and one on a bike. She had spent every waking moment loving, teaching and caring for those boys since before they were even born. She stopped to talk to a neighbor who had pulled up beside her in a pickup truck and the 4-year-old slipped in front of the monstrous vehicle on his bicycle. The baby was killed on impact when the truck rolled forward. I mourned for everyone’s losses then and felt a powerful tug on the scant strings holding me together. I believe I heard an audible rip in the fiber of my being as I watched my brothers, nieces, nephews, in-laws and out-laws suffer this horrific loss.
On Dec. 30, 2011 at about 1:30 a.m. my 15-year-old daughter woke me with a gentle shake, “Mom, Carrie and Darcy are here to see you.” I opened my eyes and crawled out of bed begrudgingly. I adore my nieces and couldn’t wait to see them, but groggily wondered at their strange timing. I took one step into the living room and knew. Carrie, who had lost a child just months before reached for me and eeked the words: “I’m sorry Aunt Donna, your brother has killed himself.”
“Doug? Ronnie? Which brother?” I tried to make sense of the crazy words they were saying to me. “Goddamn. Ronnie?” Ronnie, the strongest of us all? The caretaker? Mamma’s savior? The rich, brilliant, lauded lawyer with seemingly everything to live for — was gone? He left behind two marvelous children, a wonderful wife and a confusing, disconnected letter sent to our email in-boxes.
I walked outside in the cool night air and stared up into an ancient walnut tree. I clenched my teeth together and promised myself this: “Oh no, by God, this monster (depression) will not get me.”
In April 2012 I received a disturbing message that my mother in Arizona, where Ronnie had lived and his family still lived, was not doing well. Crisis after crisis had finally taken its toll on her mind and body. Three of my six immediate family members were dead and when I arrived at her home, it seemed to me that she — my funny, feisty, independent mother — was gone in a sense too. I dragged her away from her beloved home and city, her little boy’s last living memories and moved her to my home in Southern Utah. The lifestyle to which she was about to become accustomed was very different from the one she’d been living for the past three years. Multiple trips to Phoenix, weeks of hospital stays and financial ruin ripped at me like the winds of Hurricane Sandy.
Good Coffee, Good Friends Cure Everything
That day, as I sat staring at my friend in Starbucks I could not imagine a me with the same hope, drive and vigor with which she glowed. Vague memories of another life in another time whispered to me like ghosts of Christmases past. Empty, that’s how I felt. I felt empty. I had only that morning allowed myself to look at it, talk about it honestly — all of it — and allow it to begin to penetrate the thick skin of my heart. It hurt. I mean, it really hurt.
I looked at my friend and remembered that she had seen similar hard times. She had spent so many of our recent years scratching and fighting to live a better life; and, there she was right in front of me — living that life she was determined to have.
Clearly aware of my traumatized state, my friend told me a story of her own deep, dark depression. “Donna, I was so depressed. I hated myself. I tried to think of ways to kill myself without anyone knowing what I’d done. Then one morning I got up and I looked in a mirror. I was so fat. I hated that fat. It wasn’t the way it looked, but what all of that weight represented. I had allowed myself to let everyone around me take everything from me. I loved and cared for everyone but me. That weight represented total neglect and my willingness to let everyone and everything run my life, run over me.” I knew that what she was saying was true. I waited for the moral of the story. “At that moment in front of the mirror, I decided I could control one thing in my crazy life: I could control what I put into my mouth.”
There it was. It was her starting point. Everybody has one. Whatever we hold up as a symbol to ourselves of all that we loathe, we all have something that epitomizes our loss and failures. Her’s just happened to be fat.
She did lose the weight she wanted to lose; but, she also lost her negative self image and her willingness to put the world’s needs above her own. With energy and new vitality she was ready to take on the world.
It is time, my friends, to rise above the ugliness. It is time to lift ourselves out of this fear that keeps us frozen in time. It is time to love ourselves and in doing so love those around us with new eyes and new spirits of steel — aluminum foil? (Come on, we’ve got to be flexible.)
So it begins, “Miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep …” Just maybe, Daddy, that poem was really meant for me.